Being nutrition-obsessed, I would seek real food options at each venue, often wondering why no one had seen the opportunity and markup potential to provide cups of homemade soup.
Typically, the only choice was the baked potato van; that purpose-built chamber honouring the humble spud that suited people like me who suffer gastric and mental anguish after a bucket of chips.
The baked potato stacks up on a few counts – low in kilojoules but with the satisfying texture of a good nosh and the carbohydrate content to keep you upright for at least a few hours.
Of course, its calorific perfection is threatened by the dollops of sour cream, blobs of butter and mayonnaise-laden coleslaw that are proffered as a standard part of the meal. But, emerging as I was from a less than healthy relationship with food in my early twenties, these extras were not on my list.
So I requested the plain version, “May I have a plain potato please, nothing else?” It usually took a few sentences to clarify that meant no butter, thanks. Yes and no sour cream either, that’s fine. Nope, not even coleslaw, thank you. Straight up.
As I handed over my $4.50 for the weighty polystyrene box, a fork and napkin were passed separately, almost tentatively, as though I may not even want cutlery.
Opening the box, my hunger-fuelled excitement was tainted by a vague sense of dread borne from experience. Why?
Because more often than not the potato was burnt.
Now that’s probably palatable when the charred flavor and dry crunchy texture is masked by fatty, gooey, processed treats, but without these distractions my blackened spud was a lame lunch option.
It was this weekly winter challenge that gave rise to my Baked Potato Theory. Given that the job of the van operator was to cook potatoes, I struggled with the fact they consistently messed this up.
Baking potatoes will be The Job. It’s not hard, the van is essentially an oven on wheels so there is not much to go wrong. Surely it’s not a big ask to cook a potato?
Black is not baked.
My Baked Potato Theory has led me to observe how frequently people are either unable, unwilling or incapable of doing the job they are supposed to do. The old adage, ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ seems to have slipped by the wayside.
Can we get back to basics and do the job without focusing on peripheral nonsense?
There are many reasons why people may not be productively getting on with the job they were hired to do. Having spent the past few months considering federal policy issues, the Two Big Arguments about productivity would involve reducing union influence and bureaucratic overkill on one hand, and investing in education, training and technology on the other.
But on the ground, the Baked Potato Theory is less about federal policy and more about common sense and communication. Understand the business vision and how each job fits into it. The biggest challenges are then to articulate the core business and explain what is expected to support that.
For the baked potato vendor, it’s about the potatoes and providing what customers want, it’s not about selling as many spuds as possible. Do the first and the second will follow.
Once the context and purpose of a role is clear and transparently communicated, the next major obstacle to Doing The Job is the people around that role.
To be in a position where you are not enabled or allowed to do the job you were hired for is frustrating and demoralising to the nth degree. This is not uncommon where a workplace culture is poor or the leadership is weak.
I was recently pondering my Baked Potato Theory in the context of the upcoming mayoral election – just what do the people of Greater Geelong think the role of mayor entails? Is this understood? Has it been properly explained?
Are we all comfortable that it is not about power? Nor about the mayor delivering on promises that were made to win an election? I suspect we all understand that facilitating the councillors to achieve their community commitments is critical.
Do we also know that the team of council officers is not charged with doing the bidding of the mayor and council? The achievements of the council are the responsibility of the executive team.
Until we understand the role of local government and how the mayor and council fit into that, the Geelong region is likely to find its spuds burnt, half-baked or dangerously underdone. Or, worse, not even cooked at all.